Bafana Bafana have been dealt a crushing blow ahead of their opening 2014 World Cup qualifying fixtures with star defender Siyabonga Sangweni ruled for two weeks because of injury.
The Orlando Pirates centre-back aggravated an ankle injury this week and team management said on Wednesday he was set to be sidelined for a fortnight.
Sangweni will miss Bafana's matches against Ethiopia in Rustenburg on Sunday and Botswana in Gaborone next weekend.
He is also unlikely to feature in a friendly international against Gabon in Johannesburg on June 15.
Mamelodi Sundowns defender Siyanda Xulu has been called up as his replacement.
Sangweni's central defensive partner, Morgan Gould, said the team would need to soldier on without the player, who forms the nucleus in coach Pitso Mosimane's squad.
“It is definitely a big blow losing Siyabonga's capabilities, and considering how well he has done for the team,” Gould said.
“Whoever will replace him has to do a good job because they know there is a position in the team at stake.
“But we have good players in the squad with Bongani Khumalo and Xulu.”
Mosimane is likely to opt for Khumalo, who has played the understudy role over the last year.
While the gangly English-based player has struggled for game time since his move to Tottenham Hotspur two years ago, Khumalo was outstanding during the 2010 World Cup.
Importantly, Gould and Khumalo are familiar with each other, having anchored SuperSport United's defence in two consecutive Premiership-winning teams before the latter moved overseas.
“Bongani and I know each other's games, strengths and weaknesses,” Gould said.
“It will be a matter of gelling again because we have been together before.”
Another face that Gould and Khumalo will recognise on Sunday is one-time United forward Fikru Tefera who will carry the Ethiopian strike force.
Tefera, 26, now plays his football in Israel, and is one of a few overseas-based players in the Black Lions squad that will arrive in the country on Thursday.
While Bafana will be favourites to win their qualifying opener, the athletic East Africans will not make it easy for the hosts, according to Gould.
“Everybody knows about Fikru. He would not move from United to Pirates and back to United again if he was not good,” Gould said.
“He 1/8Fikru 3/8 is aggressive and fights. Hopefully, we can distract him.
“Generally, the Ethiopians are an open team and are good runners – which is in their nature.
“They also play openly, which we hope will give us a chance to create opportunities.” – Sapa